In this special blog, I sat and spoke to retired DCI Gurpal Virdi about the first Sikh Police Officer Piara Singh Kenth. I was astounded by the information that Mr Virdi found whilst he spoke to Mr Piara Singh Kenth. I am always looking for real and authentic stories and this blew me away. Being in the Police Force myself it was great to learn about the Sikhs who joined before me. In an unusual interview to find out about the first Sikh policeman in the United Kingdom, I have asked former Detective Sergeant Gurpal Virdi to shed some light on this amazing person. It is so amazing to do this blog it is so important to me that ethnic minority officers are spoken about especially the changes they have made to pave the way for people like me to serve also. This is a great blog and I hope learning and change can be taken from this. I am very proud of this blog. I am so glad I was trusted to publish this story. Piara Singh Kenth was a pioneer in policing but his story has never been heard properly. We forget how many Asian officers have served and retired without any acknowledgement of their astounding work.
Piara Singh Kenth
Warrant Number: 160512
Date of joining: 21st July 1969
Who is the first Asian Sikh Police officer in the United Kingdom?
This was Piara Singh Kenth who joined the Metropolitan Police on 21st July 1969. His warrant number was 160512.
What was his background?
Piara Singh Kenth was born in 1939 in Nairobi, Kenya. He is the eldest child of four brothers and six sisters. His family are originally from Ludhiana, Punjab. Before settling in Kenya in the early part of the 20th Century. His father was a civil servant in the Kenyan government whilst his mother was a devoted housewife. Whilst in Kenya during this period this was under the British rule and the Kenth family were all British subjects.
Did Mr Kenth want to join policing?
Mr Kenth after completing his education worked as a Clerk before joining the Kenyan Police on 12th August 1960. He joined as an Assistant Inspector, completed his police training at Kiganjo Police College before being posted to Kingsways police station. In 1963 he was confirmed and promoted to the substantive rank of Inspector.
What were his duties as a Kenyan police Inspector?
Piara’s duties included general police duties, criminal investigations, administration and a posting to the North East Frontier as Temporary Chief Inspector. It was here that he was awarded the Northern Frontier campaign medal for his police operations against the “Shiftas” Somali guerrillas. In fact, throughout his service with the Kenyan police, Piara received several commendations for his dedicated police work on and off duty.
Police Inspector Piara Singh Kenth (Kenyan Police), 1969
What about his personal life?
During this period in his busy schedule, he got married to his wife Harbans Kaur, they have three children.
How does Britain play a part in his life?
In the 60’s Kenya got its independence from Britain and the population was being Africanised. Some chose to remain British whilst others took up Kenyan citizenship. Piara being British was not allowed to be promoted to substantive Chief Inspector as he did not want to become Africanised which was part of the condition for promotion.
So did Piara and his family move to Britain?
In 1968 whilst visiting his family in England, Piara saw an advertisement for Metropolitan police recruitment in the National Press. He applied for it and was successful. He recalls a question being asked by the senior board member “You are an Inspector with the Kenyan police, will you be able to cope as a constable in the Metropolitan Police?” He replied, “Yes, no problem”. There was no direct transfer available at the time. Piara returned to Kenya, handed in his resignation notice and migrated to England in 1969.
Was Mr Kenth the first minority ethnic police officer?
He made history as the first Asian Sikh officer to join. There were only four other ethnic minority officers at the time serving in the Met. The media were keen to interview and photograph him.
Where was Mr Kenth’s first posting?
After successfully completing his training at Hendon, Piara was posted to Southall police station because of his linguistic skills. Such as Punjabi, Hindi and Urdu. However, senior officers decided that he should do his probationary period at Ealing police station as posting at Southall would mean that he would constantly be used as an interpreter for the Indian community in Southall.
There are lots of photographs of Mr Kenth but no interviews, why is that?
In October 1969 he was called to New Scotland Yard for pre-arranged publicity hype by the Met where he was filmed, photographed but no interviews by the media. The reason for the no interviews was because according to some he spoke “Popadum English”.
Police Constable Piara Singh Kenth outside New Scotland Yard, 1969
How well did he settle in as the first Asian policeman? How did his colleagues treat him?
Being an experienced policeman Piara had no problems settling in with his team although he did encounter hostility and was ostracised from other teams. Piara enjoyed his work. One morning soon after the national publicity he was stopped after getting out of his car to go to Ealing police station to report for duty by an overzealous sergeant from another team who asked him for his driving documents. Piara was in possession of an international licence and British provisional licence whilst waiting to take his British driving test. The sergeant decides to report him for no ‘L’ plates and driving unaccompanied with a provisional licence. Amazingly this incident was leaked to the press within a couple of days. Luckily, the Met saw some sense and No Further Action was taken against Piara. In any event, he had passed his test within a few days from being reported.
What sort of police work was he assigned to?
Due to his previous skills in the Kenyan police, Piara was soon involved in several serious criminal investigations as an investigator. After his probation, he was appointed as Temporary Detective Constable at Southall police station on the Southall Immigration Squad. The CID way of life meant longer hours and he was seeing less of his family. This posting also meant hostility from the Asian community. During this period Piara and his team received several commendations from senior Crown court judges and the Met were compelled to recognise his work. Things were not going as smooth as he thought as Piara suspected something was not right. He was also denied a posting on the Gurdip Singh Chaggar racist murder investigation.
On 19th October 1976, Piara Singh Kenth was called into the Commander’s office and suspended from duty. His warrant card was taken from him. He was interviewed on several occasions and on 6th June 1978 he was charged with (1) Impeding the prosecution of a man and (2) Attempting to obstruct justice.
His family must have been very upset?
Whilst suspended Piara felt the isolation, his colleagues had ostracised him. He was on his own. His family was going through a very stressful period. No one was listening to him despite him protesting his innocence. During this period Piara suffered a heart attack but survived.
What happened about the allegations?
In September 1979 at the Inner London crown court after the prosecution had presented its case, Judge Kenneth Rubin, dismissed the case against Piara Singh Kenth, saying that there was no case to answer. He immediately ordered the jury to find Piara Singh Kenth ‘Not Guilty’ on the charges.
Mr Kenth was clearly very upset at what had happened. Was he supported by the Asian community?
Piara Singh Kenth sent in his resignation. The emerging Asian community did not support him because many did not appreciate the fact that he was just doing his duty but saw him as the enemy. During the ’60s and to the present time many in the minority communities saw and still see the police as the enemy. In late December he received a certificate of service signed by Assistant Commissioner. Piara officially resigned from the Met on 9th December 1979.
What did Mr Kenth do after resigning from the police?
After leaving the Metropolitan police Piara and his family decided to make a fresh start by applying to become citizens of Canada their applications were accepted but his children did not want to migrate. Piara then took on a new job with Thames Trains where he served for twenty happy years.
Why were you interested in Mr Kenth?
Being the first Asian Sikh police officer in the United Kingdom, he made history. I recalled seeing him as a youngster walking in front of cameras with the backdrop of the New Scotland Yard sign. I wanted to write about him and inform others. In 2010, I met up with him and his dedicated wife. Then at the age of 71, Piara Singh Kenth was enjoying his retirement with his wife. His children have grown up with professional careers and left the nest. Reflecting back, he said “I had fun but in the end, until things soured.
He still lives in West London. He and his wife care for his younger disabled sister. He is a proud inspiring man; he created history by becoming the first Asian Sikh policeman but a lot of what he went through by breaking barriers will never be fully appreciated by anybody other than his immediate family. He is a pioneer and the Asian community needs to recognise that.
Piara Singh Kenth
Is there anything else you would like to share?
As with most minority ethnic police officers we are targeted, ostracised and criminalised if we raise our heads above the parapet. Institutional racism within the police does not allow for positive role models to flourish and we are shot down. History teaches us a lot of things and young police officers need to made aware of past officers’ achievements.